The 2014 title defense of reigning AMA Pro Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson Series king Steve Rapp could not have gotten off to a more nightmarish start following the season's opening rounds, but the champion's prospects suddenly look quite a bit brighter now. The Suburban Motors Harley-Davidson ace won pole at the Daytona International Speedway opener and looked to be the fastest man on track at Road America, but misfortune and mistake relegated Rapp to last place finishes in both outings. With just four rounds remaining, Rapp's hopes for a championship repeat seemed all but extinguished when he left Wisconsin.
However, the post-Elkhart Lake announcement of the inclusion of two additional late-season races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and a thoroughly dominant performance at the Triumph SuperBike Classic at Barber Motorsports Park may have just reignited Rapp's 2014 title run in a major way.
While in Alabama, Rapp established a new lap record and upped his Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson career pole and race win tallies to nine apiece - extending his all-time lead in both categories.
He broke the challenge of his rivals on the race's opening lap and never looked back; he stretched out a massive lead en route to the checkered flag and snatched up 30 desperately-needed points for his efforts.
Rapp is now seventh in the standings and 34 points out of first. While he still faces an uphill climb to retain the No. 1 plate, Rapp's Barber Motorsports Park clinic reminded the paddock that he remains the man to beat in any given Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson race. And with five races yet in play, he should not be counted out just yet.
"I've been racing for a long time and I have a lot of experience setting up the bikes," said Rapp. "The bike is pretty good and I don't change it too much through the weekend. I'm just really comfortable on it and my guys build the best bike out there for sure. They are meticulously maintained and perfect all the time so that helps a lot and gives me a lot of confidence. I really like this track and I've done well here in the past so I came here feeling good."
While Rapp disappeared out front, a biker bar brawl broke out for the runner-up spot. Former champion Danny Eslick of Ruthless Racing traded haymakers with Road America race winner Kyle Wyman and his KWR/Millennium Technologies machine, points leader and Josh Chisum Racing/Bartels Harley-Davidson's Tyler O'Hara, 2012 New Jersey Motorsports Park race winner Shane Narbonne of Six-Four Motorsports and Rapp's Suburban teammate, Ben Carlson.
Wyman's race ended on the ground on lap 6 out of 11.
"It was a shame because I got off to a really great start," Wyman said. "I was having way too much fun out there and maybe got a little anxious with the throttle. I made a couple mistakes that I wasn't too happy about, so I look forward to getting back out at the next one for some more redemption."
Eslick held on for second while Carlson claimed a second-consecutive third-place result. Just as importantly, Carlson knocked O'Hara off the podium altogether for the second straight weekend, improving his own title hopes as well as those of his teammate.
"It's a challenge riding these XR1200s but it's a lot of fun," Eslick said. "I don't think they're meant to go around a racetrack as fast as Steve's getting it around there, and I don't think it's supposed to go as fast as I was either. Hats off to Steve and the Suburban guys; they did their homework and really hauled the mail. We were pretty much racing for second, but it was a good one - it felt like a race for the win."
Two-time AMA Supermoto Unlimited national champ Carlson was happy with his third place run.
"We had a good race. We got off to a fairly decent start but I was kind of at the back of the chain there," Carlson said. "I just realized that in this XR1200 races, I always seem to get beat in the last two laps, getting fourth or fifth place. I just put my head down and thought, 'Hey, I'm not going to keep losing to those guys.' I was just bonsai-ing some passes and they were sticking. That's what they've done to me at other races so I'm going to keep doing it to them. It was all safe and fun racing, but we've got to get on the podium. I feel like we can be up in the championship again and I feel this year I'm finally not chasing O'Hara and those guys - I can run with them and beat them, so I'm ecstatic."
Narbonne rounded out the day's top five, crossing the stripe less than a half-second back of O'Hara in fourth.
Despite missing the podium again, O'Hara still leads the championship fight. However, he's now only one point up on Eslick (66-65) with Carlson right there in third with 60 points.
Folsom Harley-Davidson's Gage McAllister kept himself in the hunt as well, edging third Suburban Motors runner Nick Hansen for sixth at Barber Motorsports Park by a scant 0.003 seconds. As a result, McAllister is fourth in the points race, ten back of leader O'Hara.
Trev Deeley Motorcycles' Darren James, Josh Chisum Racing/Bartels Harley-Davidson's Josh Chisum and James Gang/Hoban Brothers Racing's Eric Stump completed the BMP top ten.
The stars of AMA Pro Road Racing will share the spotlight with world-class company as the GEICO Motorcycle U.S. Round of the FIM Superbike World Championship at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is up next. The joint AMA Pro-FIM event will take place on July 11-13 in Monterey, California.